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Cross-cultural Comparison Between the US and Japan Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 21st, 2019

Introduction

Kitayama, Mesquita, and Karasawa (2006) posit that no single definition can satisfactorily cover the aspects of culture. Broadly, culture denotes the cumulative behavior of a group of people that is universally acceptable by that group (Cho & Cheon, 2005). It comprises people’s behaviors, beliefs, and symbols.

Culture is not static, but dynamic, which means that it changes from time to time (Jenkinson, Fitzpatrick, Norquist, Findley & Hughes, 2003). The Japanese culture is one of the most complex cultures in the world. It can be traced back to about 10,000 years (Dyer & Chu, 2003).

The Japanese culture has been changing over the years and it has been influenced largely by foreign cultures as the Japanese islands continue to be inhabited. The traditional Japanese culture was greatly influenced by numerous foreign cultures and especially the Chinese culture (Muramatsu & Akiyama, 2011).

However, the modern Japanese culture has small or zero Chinese influence. The fading Chinese influence in the modern Japanese culture is due to the isolation of the two lands from the world (Yamaguchi, Gelfand, Ohashi & Zemba, 2005).

This research paper will explore the Japanese culture and compare it with the American culture. Numerous differences exist between the US and the Japanese cultures. The major differences are in religion, the feeding habits, the dressing code, as well as the attitude towards people from different cultural backgrounds (Jianghao & Zhijun, 2011).

The paper will critically analyze the main aspects of the two cultures and identify a theory that best explains the inherent differences between the two cultures. Based on the theory identified, the paper will shed light on how both the US and the Japanese cultures influence the expression of emotion, the development of morality, gender, and aggression. In addition, the paper will analyze the various biases that may have influenced the analysis of the two cultures by citing evidence to show that the biases influenced the aforementioned analysis.

The Japanese culture

Japan is one of the nations in the world that have preserved their traditions even to date (Jenkinson et al., 2003). The Japanese culture differs significantly from that of other countries especially the United States. Some of the major areas of difference between the Japanese culture and that of the United States hinge on their music coupled with clothing (Cho & Cheon, 2005).

The fact that Japan has preserved its culture and traditions makes the topic an interesting area of study. In this research paper, the focus will be to evaluate the nature of the Japanese culture. The aforementioned culture is of great significance since it is unique and it differs greatly from the western cultures. In addition, the Japanese culture is one that borrows heavily from foreign cultures especially the Chinese culture.

The view that the Japanese culture has some unique characteristics coupled with the fact that most of its aspects are foreign makes it an attractive topic to explore. Contrary to the United States’ individualistic culture, the Japanese culture is collectivistic (Kitayama et al., 2006).

The collectivism nature of this culture is linked to the Japanese traditional way of life. Traditionally, most Japanese were rice farmers (Dyer & Chu, 2003). The activities involved in rice farming require the cooperation of all individuals and communities involved. The spirit of togetherness perpetuated by rice farming has shaped the culture of the Japanese and it is relevant even in the contemporary times.

The Japanese language

In analyzing the Japanese culture, it is important to consider the official language of the country. Japanese is the national language across the country. Written Japanese is comprised of “three distinct scripts viz. the hiragana, the katakana, and lastly the kanji” (Jianghao & Zhijun, 2011, p. 21).

All the three scripts are derived from the Chinese language. As the Japanese culture continues to evolve, the written Japanese language also incorporates romaji, which is a Latin alphabet (Kitayama et al., 2006). Additionally, incorporated in the written Japanese language are the Hindu Arabic numerals, which form a large portion of the numerals (Jenkinson et al., 2003).

The Japanese Literature

Just as the Japanese language borrows from the Chinese language, its literature too is greatly influenced by the Chinese writings (Cho & Cheon, 2005). The Chinese literature that was mainly written in Classical Chinese heavily influenced the Japanese writings as the first Japanese scholars heavily relied on the Chinese literature to make their own literature (Yamaguchi et al., 2005).

The other literature that also influenced the Japanese writing is the Indian literature (Dyer & Chu, 2003). The inflow of Buddhists into Japan had remarkable effect on the local literature across the nation. Much as the aforementioned cultures had some influence on the Japanese literature, in the recent past, the Japanese writers have developed their own literature that centers mainly on Japan’s affairs (Varley, 2000).

The nature of the Japanese literature has seen major changes in the past few decades due to the recent interaction between the Japanese and the West especially after it opened its ports to western trade.

The Japanese Music

The Japanese music can best be evaluated by comparing both the traditional and modern music. The traditional Japanese music incorporates a wide variety of artists who perform in unique styles (Kitayama et al., 2006). The Japanese modern music has dominated the international music industry.

The country has emerged as the largest producer of music in Asia and the second largest producer of music in the world after the United States (Cho & Cheon, 2005). Artists from the Japanese background dominate its music market. The Japanese hold ceremonies known as karaoke where local music characterizes the venue (Muramatsu & Akiyama, 2011).

In these venues, various artists perform and show their capability in such music. The Japanese music is often based on the intervals of human breathing as opposed to the mathematical timing that characterize the United States’ music (Kitayama et al., 2006).

Visual arts

Painting

For a long period, painting has dominated the art industry in Japan. Both traditional and modern paintings are usually done using a brush as the main painting tool. Painting as an art started a long time ago and it is evolving even in the modern times (Jenkinson et al., 2003).

The introduction of the Chinese paper in the 7th century altered the art of painting entirely as the papers increased efficiency (Varley, 2000). The traditional ways of painting are still in use even to date.

Sculpture

The traditional Japanese sculptures were highly influenced by the Buddhist religion (Starrs, 2011). Most sculptures were images borrowed from Buddhism. The main Buddhist images that dominated the Japanese sculptures were Tathagata, Bodhisattva, and the Myoo (Dyer & Chu, 2003).

The national government of the days recognized the need to make Buddhist statues to boost its prestige (Yamaguchi et al., 2005). Today, the “statues exist in various places most notably a colossal bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana in the Tōdaiji temple” (Cho & Cheon, 2005, p. 101). Initially, wood was used as a major building block of the sculptures, but the modern sculptures are usually made from bronze and other modern metals (Cho & Cheon, 2005).

Stones and pottery are also important materials used in the construction of traditional statues. In most cases, the statues are usually decorated and they bear bright colors (Jianghao & Zhijun, 2011).

Flower arrangement

Flower arrangement is an important art in Japan and it is done in a professional manner (Muramatsu & Akiyama, 2011). Ikebana is the term used to refer to the art of arranging flowers in the country. The art has earned the country fame in almost every country across the world (Kitayama et al., 2006).

The art of flower arrangement is usually a collective responsibility and it is said to promote peace and harmony amongst the Japanese. Ikebana is taken not only as an art, but also as a scientific method of weather forecasting (Jenkinson et al., 2003).

Performance of arts

Japan has preserved “four main traditional theaters, viz. noh, kyōgen, kabuki, and bunraku with noh tracing its origins from the union of sarugaku” (Ikegami, 2005 p. 89). Noh was characterized by music and dances. The dancers were known to wear masks and certain specialized garments during performances. In addition, Noh dancers would invoke certain gestures, which were unique to certain events (Starrs, 2011).

Clothing

One of the factors that make the Japanese culture different from any other culture across the world is the dressing code (Cho & Cheon, 2005). Traditional Japanese wore a special type of clothing known as the kimono (Jianghao & Zhijun, 2011).

Initially, the term kimono was used to refer to all types of traditional clothing, but as the Japanese culture continued to evolve, the meaning of the word became limited to a long type of clothing, which is mostly worn during certain occasions (Dyer & Chu, 2003).

Today the clothing is worn on certain special occasions with women and children being the favorite consumers of this design. The original kimonos were designed in such a way that they reflected the influence of the Chinese culture, as they resembled a Chinese type of clothing known as hanfu (Starrs, 2011). Kimonos coupled with all other traditional clothing items are collectively known as wafuku, which means Japanese clothe (Muramatsu & Akiyama, 2011).

Kimonos are different depending on the gender and age of the person wearing it. Men usually wear dark or less bright colors, whilst women sport brighter colors (Varley, 2000).

The design of the kimonos varies greatly with gender and status (Jenkinson et al., 2003). A kimono of a married woman, which is also known as tomesode, for example is strikingly different from that of a non-married counterpart, which is known as furisode.

The furisode is longer than the tomesode and it is usually long sleeved (Kitayama et al., 2006). The kimonos are known to communicate certain messages. The furisode, for example, is designed in such a way that it sends signals that the wearer is not married (Jianghao & Zhijun, 2011).

The kimonos also exhibit certain special decorations (Cho & Cheon, 2005). Obi is one of the decorations worn together with the kimonos and it takes the form of an ornamental sash. Although obi “can be worn with other traditional clothing, it is mostly worn with the kimonos” (Yamaguchi et al., 2005, p. 753).

The decoration is more noticeable in women clothing than it is in men’s garments. The majority of the Japanese women’s kimonos have an extremely large and convoluted obi, whilst men’s kimonos only have small and less bright obi (Dyer & Chu, 2003).

Similarities and differences

Speed vs. accuracy

Most organizations in the United States exercise a top down decision-making strategy (Muramatsu & Akiyama, 2011). The American organization culture is characterized by freedom for the subordinates without having to consult their superiors.

This aspect fastens decision making albeit at times errors may arise due to minimal consultation. In most American companies, the top managers give orders to their subordinates devoid of any consultation process. In such cases, managers may end up making uninformed decisions due to pressure from the organization’s policies to make major decisions quickly (Cho & Cheon, 2005).

In conclusion, therefore, the process of making decisions in the United States takes a short time, and this aspect might results in errors at times, which might be disastrous for businesses’ survival and competitiveness. On the other hand, the decision-making process in Japan is done in phases and the procedure of making such decisions is well outlined in the organizations’ policies (Jianghao & Zhijun, 2011).

The top managers have to consult with their subordinates before making important decisions. Their decisions are very careful and conservative, and thus sometimes the process is slower than that in the United States’ companies (Kitayama et al., 2006). In Japanese organizations, the decision-making process takes place in phases. These phases are characterized by numerous roundtable meetings between the superiors and their subordinates to deliberate on the best course of action in various situations.

The process is thus slower than that in the US where only the top managers are engaged and the subordinates are at liberty to make certain decisions (Jenkinson et al., 2003). The careful and conservative approach reduces chances of errors, thus cutting down the risk of making inappropriate decisions. The United States’ companies rarely hold such meetings with stakeholders, as they consider it as unnecessary move.

In addition, they tend to argue that holding numerous meetings will lead to boredom, thus causing resistance from workers (Yamaguchi et al., 2005). However, Japanese companies believe in reaching a consensus with everyone involved in the decision-making process, hence they spend most of their time holding meetings.

Individual roles vs. teamwork

In most United States’ companies, the role of an individual in the organization is highly valued (Varley, 2000). Each individual’s role in the organization is assessed against the company’s goals and objectives. Japan, on the other hand, emphasizes groups’ contribution towards the achievement of the organizational goals (Jianghao & Zhijun, 2011).

Individual’s contribution is overlooked in the evaluation of the company’s achievements. Individuals’ contribution does not count if the team does not achieve the set targets. The Japanese people are generally characterized as mutually dependent and cooperative (Muramatsu & Akiyama, 2011). The US people, on the other hand, are independent and they tend to possess a sense of analytical thought process.

Diversity

The United States is composed of people from different cultural backgrounds (Dyer & Chu, 2003). Cultural diversity in the United States is due to immigration of people from different nations over decades. The United States’ laws emphasize the importance of ensuring diversity in the workforce.

The multicultural nature of the United States coupled with legislation ensures that diversity is maintained in the workforce (Cho & Cheon, 2005). Contrary to the United States, which is a multicultural state, Japan has a homogeneous culture. The workforce in most companies in Japan is composed of the Japanese with minimal or no outsiders.

Personal life vs. professional life

In the United States, there is a balance between work and personal life (Jenkinson et al., 2003). However, the majority of people in the United States value their personal life. The situation is different in Japan since work life is a priority.

A theory that will guide the analysis of both cultures

The rice theory

In the recent past, the rice theory has gained popularity especially in explaining the cultural differences between Japan and the United States (Kitayama et al., 2006). The theory is based on the argument that rice farmers are integrated and harmonized by the activities involved in rice farming.

The proponents of this theory argue that rice farmers have to remain interdependent as long as they have to achieve their goals. Traditional rice farmers worked in teams since rice farming involved activities that can only be achieved through collective working. The activities involved in rice farming necessitated the need for farmers to work together (Jianghao & Zhijun, 2011).

Rice farming brought together villages and communities in activities such as developing suitable irrigation systems and while planting the crop. Psychologists have identified rice planting as one of the activities that brought together people from different cultural backgrounds and promoted peace amongst them in Japan (Cho & Cheon, 2005).

Rice farming in Japan promoted peace and harmony amongst the Japanese, since the involved activities would not be successful devoid of the community working together as a team. The rice theory works in favor of the Japanese culture since Japan embraces a collective culture as opposed to an individualistic culture that is common in the United States (Yamaguchi et al., 2005).

The theory can also best explain the American culture as the United States does not grow rice, hence the individualistic culture. The Japanese corporate culture can equally be explained by the rice theory. The Japanese believe that in the event that the top managers fail in implementing certain strategic measures aimed at achieving the set goals, the failure is not only theirs, but also it affects all other stakeholders (Jenkinson et al., 2003).

As opposed to the United States, the Japanese attribute success to harmony and good public relations. The corporate culture in most Japanese companies is guided by the principles of the rice theory. Managers of the Japanese companies tend to promote the spirit of togetherness and engage each employee in the decision-making processes (Muramatsu & Akiyama, 2011).

The Japanese businesspersons have indicated that dispensing their employees leads to lowered reputation and mistrust between managers and their subordinates, thus companies rarely lay off their workers in this region (Dyer & Chu, 2003). On the other hand, the United States does not hold the same philosophy. The United States’ managers may lay off their workers at any given time.

The Japanese believe that the success of a business leads to huge profits, which translates into benefits to all stakeholders (Jianghao & Zhijun, 2011). However, some United States’ companies such as the Nissan USA and Honda USA have embraced the spirit of interdependence that is common in Japan (Kitayama et al., 2006). In the recent past, the aforementioned companies have consented to the view that laying off their workers leads to the poor reputation of their companies.

How each culture influences human development, identity development, and personality development within it based on the theory

People from rice growing areas are interdependent of each other and they often dislike foreigners (Cho & Cheon, 2005). The rice theory explains why the Japanese workplace is mainly composed of the Japanese with minimal foreigners. On the other hand, the United States does not have rice plantations, and thus people are independent, which explains why they remain individualistic.

People from Japan are less aggressive to each other since they rely on one other in the production of rice. On the contrary, people from the United States are highly independent and they often shy from engaging their fellow citizens in their daily activities (Jenkinson et al., 2003). Therefore, people in the United States have an individualistic attitude, which develops from the view that no activity is done collectively as rice farming in Japan.

The Chinese immigrants affected the Japanese rice farming since China is one of the countries in the world that produce plenty of rice (Starrs, 2011). Rice farming requires plenty supply of labor and cooperation, thus explaining why the Japanese are more united as compared to the Americans.

Culture influences based on the theory

Rice farming involves activities such as flooding, draining, harvesting, and fertilizing just to mention but a few (Jianghao & Zhijun, 2011). The aforementioned activities are tiresome and they often require the cooperation of the involved parties (Dyer & Chu, 2003).

The need for communal involvement in the performance of these activities boosts harmony and peaceful coexistence. Rice farmers thus tend to be highly respectful of each other in a bid to ensure the success of these activities. Gender plays a great role in Japan (Cho & Cheon, 2005).

Women are lowly recognized in Japan and mostly they are assigned petty tasks. The number of women in professional jobs in Japan is lesser than that of the United States. A report tabled in 2012 regarding the Global Gender Gap Report indicates that Japan trails the United States in embracing gender equality (Hausmann, Tyson & Zahidi, 2012).

The report ranked Japan at position 101 in the list of nations that have embraced gender equality in the world as opposed to the 22nd position of the United States (Hausmann et al., 2012). The report indicated that the number of women in politics in Japan is fewer as compared to the number of women holding similar positions in the United States.

The report further indicated that in Japan, women are forced to quit company jobs to carry out house chores once they get married (Hausmann et al., 2012). The rice theory attributes rice farming to harmony and peaceful coexistence amongst communities involved in rice farming (Jianghao & Zhijun, 2011).

The theory further asserts that the Japanese are not aggressive and they tend to maintain high levels of respect when relating to each other due to the interdependence involved in rice farming activities. In comparison to the American culture, the Japanese culture facilitates peace and shapes the behavior of individuals (Jenkinson et al., 2003).

Rice farming in Japan influences the behavior of people and increases the morality levels. In other words, the Japanese have higher levels of morality as compared to their American counterparts. Research indicates that the Japanese are reluctant in establishing good relations with foreigners.

The reluctance is evidenced by the news report that involved interviews conducted on a section of Japanese workers working in the United States over a proposal to join the United Automobile Workers Union (UAW) (Lewis-Colman, 2008). Of the Japanese workers interviewed, 2400 employees openly opposed the proposal to join the US workers union (Lewis-Colman, 2008).

This case is not the only incident illustrating the Japanese dislike for foreigners. Employees of the Honda factory in Ohio have also opposed similar proposals in another case (Ikegami, 2005).

Explanation of biases that may influence the analysis of these cultures

The analysis of the two cultures could not be possible without identifying some biases. First, there is an assumption that the Japanese population is composed of people of the Japanese background and no foreigners (Starrs, 2011). This assumption is biased, since some people in Japan do not belong to the Japanese community, hence it is biased to assume homogeneity of culture in Japan (Yamaguchi et al., 2005).

Secondly, the rice theory describes the Japanese culture as collectivist only because the majority of eastern countries are rice producers. The theory assumes that all the Japanese are rice farmers, thus ignoring the fact that rice does not do well in some parts of Japan (Varley, 2000). People living in areas where rice never grows are likely to exhibit an individualistic culture as opposed to the collectivism culture in the rice growing areas (Muramatsu & Akiyama, 2011).

The assumption about a collectivist culture in Japan is thud vague since it is only based on the premise that rice farmers are cooperative due to the nature of rice growing activities. The rice theory bases its argument on rice farming thus describing the culture in the United States as individualistic.

Some scholars have argued that just as rice farming integrates people, wheat farming may also have similar effects (Jianghao & Zhijun, 2011). Given that wheat farming is common in some parts of the United States, a controversy arises as to the effectiveness of the rice theory in distinguishing the two cultures.

Lastly, the rice theory is biased in assuming that the Japanese are reluctant in welcoming foreigners into their country (Jenkinson et al., 2003). Even though the country’s population is comprised mainly of people from the Japanese origin, some traces of foreigners exist within the Japanese population (Dyer & Chu, 2003).

The theory argues that the Japanese are not highly aggressive as their United States’ counterparts only because they must remain interdependent in order to facilitate rice farming. Other activities apart from rice farming can equally bring people together and boost harmony amongst them (Cho & Cheon, 2005).

The theory is thus biased in assuming that the US people are more aggressive as compared to their Japanese counterparts. The presumption of the Japanese population being comprised of people from the Japanese origin affects the analysis since there is a precondition of homogeneity of culture amongst the Japanese.

This assertion may not hold since there are foreigners within the population who may cause heterogeneity in the Japanese culture.

Conclusion

The Japanese culture has evolved over a long period. This culture can best be explained as a hybrid of different cultures such as the Asian and the European cultures. Both the Japanese and the United States’ cultures are different in various aspects. The traditional Japanese culture borrowed heavily from the Chinese culture. Japan is largely inhabited by the Japanese, which explains why it presumably a homogeneous culture.

On the other hand, the American population is composed of people from different cultural and ethnical backgrounds. According to the rice theory, the traditional ways of production in Japan has helped to shape the Japanese culture. Rice farming brings together people since the activities involved must be performed collectively.

Rice farming explains the collectivism nature of the Japanese culture as opposed to the American individualistic culture. The Japanese corporate culture also differs from that of the United States. Contrary to Japanese companies, which have their workforce drawn mainly from the Japanese communities, in American companies, the workforce is diverse.

The decision-making processes in Japan are lengthy and they involve numerous meetings with stakeholders, while in the United States, workers are allowed enough freedom to make certain decisions without consulting top managers and this aspects leads to the making of quick decisions.

References

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Jenkinson, C., Fitzpatrick, R., Norquist, J., Findley, L., & Hughes, K. (2003). Cross-cultural evaluation of the Parkinson’s Disease Questionnaire: tests of data quality, score reliability, response rate, and scaling assumptions in the United States, Canada, Japan, Italy, and Spain. Journal of clinical epidemiology, 56(9), 843-847.

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Lewis-Colman, D. (2008). Race against Liberalism: Black Workers and the UAW in Detroit (Working Class in American History). Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Muramatsu, N., & Akiyama, H. (2011). Japan: super-aging society preparing for the future. The Gerontologist, 51(4), 425-432.

Ikegami, E. (2005). Bonds of civility: aesthetic networks and the political origins of Japanese culture. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Starrs, R. (2011). Modernism and Japanese culture. London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Varley, P. (2000). Japanese culture. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press.

Yamaguchi, S., Gelfand, M., Ohashi, M. M., & Zemba, Y. (2005). The Cultural Psychology of Control Illusions of Personal versus Collective Control in the United States and Japan. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 36(6), 750-761.

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